The Zarfian Cruelty (or Forgiveness) Scale

I came up with this analytical tool in the mid-90s. It's well-documented; see this IFWiki entry, for example. Or the TVTropes page for Unwinnable by Design (whose take on the subject is somewhat different from mine). I see the scale mentioned surprisingly often, even today.

This page exists merely to preserve my original posts on the subject. They were posted on Usenet in 1996. Those posts are preserved within Google Groups. But of course nobody has any faith that Google will maintain any given service from one decade to the next. So I'm copying the texts here.

The title of the thing is somewhat ambiguous, by the way. I never gave it a formal label. Some people, occasionally including me, have pushed "Forgiveness Scale" on the grounds that there's enough cruelty in the world already. But I can't disagree that "Cruelty Scale" is the catchier phrase.

The Usenet thread in question began by discussing my game So Far. The ABOUT text in that game includes the lines:

This is a shortish-to-medium-sized game. More than a short story, less than a full-length novel. Its rating is "cruel." It is possible to make mistakes which will prevent you from winning. Sometimes common sense will serve to avoid such mistakes; sometimes insight is necessary; sometimes neither will help. Save often, and keep your old saved games.
Someone commented on this (typoing the title as "Far Side", but never mind!) I replied with a fuller explanation:

From: "Andrew C. Plotkin" <erkyrath+@CMU.EDU>
Subject: Re: Chart News: So Far rockets to #8! Jigsaw returns.
Date: 1996/07/22

"Cruel" was the word I used, but actually I wasn't referring to the difficulty. I was referring to, well, the cruelty rating. Or forgiveness rating, for those who like their glasses half-full.

Here's my notes on this subject:

(A footnote: I was still using my CMU email address, but at this point I was living in DC and working for Magnet Interactive Studios. Just a few posts later, as it happens, my CMU email was cut off and I switched to a Netcom address.)

I expanded on the idea in a followup post:

Perhaps a better derivation would be: [...]

Remember, *this system does not measure difficulty.* It measures a different, and hopefully more objective, quality -- how much saving and undo-ing is necessary to finish a game.

(Not totally objective, because we can disagree about what is "obviously" irrevocable. Some people may think it sensible to save before walking into the big black temple full of evil chanting; others may be shocked when they get killed inside.)

Updated August 25, 2019.

The Cruelty Scale Revisited

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